By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Unlike humans, pets tend to poke their noses in the grass, inhaling nature’s splendor along with any added chemicals. Studies show that lawn fertilizers dumped from the bag or sprayed by a truck are harmful to pets, as well as humans.
The National Institute of Health found the pesticide 2,4-D used in many “weed and feed” fertilizers caused an increased risk of lymphoma in dogs. A Purdue University study found a link between lawn chemicals and bladder cancer.
“Every year we hear of deaths all the time from simple exposure (to lawn chemicals),” said Vincent Seccareccia, a veterinarian who operates a mobile pet clinic in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Close proximity to the ground and smaller bodies relative to humans make pets susceptible to harm from environmental pollutants. If it’s not snorted, the synthetic residue can be ingested by cats and dogs from licking their paws or through eye ducts, Seccareccia said.
Dogs and cats instinctively roam, meaning they likely take in the neighbor’s lawn products, along with those used at home. Several experts say the side effects are both short and long term. Short-term exposure to common herbicides can cause vomiting, seizures and diarrhea. Symptoms include excessive drooling, dilated eyes and pale gums. Long-term effects in both pets and humans includes disorders to the nervous system, hormonal disorders, birth defects and cancer.
Charles Callanan, director of the Rhode Island Animal Medical Center in Warwick, said common sense goes a long way toward protecting pets. If you use a synthetic fertilizer service, ask for the material safety data sheet (MSDS) that details the chemicals applied and their health risks. Keep pet food and water bowls indoors and clean them regularly.
Laurie Lofton, a Chepachet-based veterinarian, said a pet’s diet can help lessen the damage from exposure to pollution. Pet food should be tailored to a pet’s age and species. Buy pet food without byproducts and preservative. For people and pets, she said, “nutrition is at the core of being healthy.”
Here’s how to make your lawn safer:
Grow a diversity of grasses and shrubs. Clover and even some weeds such as dandelions make a lawn stronger and more drought resistant.
Keep the grass at least 3.5 inches to strengthen roots and shade out weeds.
Leave grass clippings on the lawn. Clippings provide about 50 percent of the fertilizer a soil needs.
Aerate the lawn to allow air, water and worms to cultivate the soil.
Apply organic fertilizer, especially in the fall.
Apply ample seeds frequently with compost.